|'Strange Trips and Pipe Dreams' Review
Recently I've written quite a few reviews for this site (and for a couple of others) and I've been using a
new approach suggested by Andy Garibaldi, which seems to me to have been quite successful. This
approach consists of reviewing a CD on the very first listening. It seems ideal now that I've reached an
age where I haven't the willingness to invest a lot of time in repeated listens to a piece of music. I used
to do this to 'get into' whatever it was and thus decide if I liked it or not. I recall from talking to friends
about music that this seemed to be accepted practice - perhaps it was merely the zeitgeist (this was
back in the 70's) or the product of more leisure time. Nowadays something has to appeal immediately
for me to give it more than one hearing, and "I know what I like" more now than I did then, perhaps...
Strange Trips and Pipe Dreams is a Dave Brock solo album from 1995 or 96, which has long been in
my possession but is not something I have listened to for at least a couple of years. It's been such a
long time that perhaps Andy's technique will still work. Something that's more likely to make me
prejudge this CD is the fact that I'm not a great fan of Dave's solo stuff and thought his previous efforts
(Earthed To The Ground and the Agents of Chaos) pretty lacklustre. Since this album we've had Weird
7 (the Dave Brock demos), Spacebrock and Memos and Demos, which all raised the bar...so I was
interested to go back and listen to this album again with that sense of retrospection and hopefully a fresh
pair of ears. Anyway, here's the tracklist:
1. Hearing Aid Test
2. White Zone
3. U.F.O. Line
5. Pipe Dream
7. Something Going On
9. Parasites Are Here On Earth
11.It's Never Too Late
Hearing Aid Test fades in with a shuffling drum pattern, which supports a couple of minutes of wah'd
guitar soloing and some trademark synth before fading into a melange of vocal samples, which bridge
the gap into White Zone. On this one somewhat minimalistic 80's sounding sequenced synth establishes
the basics of the song before the keyboards weigh in with an altogether lusher sound, alternated with
processed rhythm guitar. Again, there's some wah'd lead guitar, and it occurs to me that Dave was
rediscovering this effect after not having used it since the early 70's. In fact, there's a lot of Dave's
guitar on this album. Seeing as it came a couple of years after Hawkwind's keyboard-dominated period
in the early 90's, it's definitely some kind of development.
The over-use of samples is tiresome, though, and it's something I've been noticing about a lot of space
rock recently. Other offenders are Ship Of Fools (see the recent compilation 'Let's Get This Mother
Outta Here) and Porcupine Tree. How much do old audio clips of wacky 1950's American TV shows
really enhance any piece of music? But take the samples away from U.F.O. Line (the 3rd number on
the album) and you'd have nothing left but some wheezing synthesizer. The opening chords of 'Space'
provide relief, however, and we're into familiar territory as this is a remake of an old number - none
other than 'Space Is Deep'. Where the original, though, wove threads of bronze flame through the
velvet black of outer space, this is a distinctly yellower shade of pale plastic. Vamped keyboard chords
and the kind of sample you see labelled as "orchestral hit" on Casio's finest products (the lineal
descendants of the Home Organs of the 1970's) litter this track, which is speeded up from the original
and has none of the glory of the acoustic fingerpicking that it boasted. But what the arrangement can't
take away is the fact that it's an excellent song.
Pipe Dream follows, and this is much cleaner, laying down a classic Brock solo synth riff, with Noises
Off weaving in and out of the mix. He does this so well, generating a real spaciness from a few simple
elements, mostly by dint of where they are placed rather than how they sound. Anyone who has fooled
around with home recording will know how difficult it is to do something like this and get anything
resembling music out of it. Self, the following track, uses the same template but delivers a completely
different feeling with a distant, foreboding three-note riff played first in an ascending sequence and then
in a descending one. It's not a lengthy track (actually none of them have been, so far) but it's quite
Something's Going On opens with jazzy lounge chords, and a comic voiceover from Dave showing off
his ability to throw a posh accent. This is then intentionally disrupted by a burst of rock-n-roll - more
wah'd guitar and a dark, syncopated synth pattern. A real tension develops with rising veils of guitar
noise (which he produces by grinding a knife against the strings) and a truly nightmarish metallic
monster voice saying "Where are you?" This puts me in mind of a blinded robot behemoth groping,
arms outstretched, for a terrified victim. Then a sparse ascending two-chord synth pattern gradually
fades in, and plays the song out for the last minute or so. Weird and wonderful.
On the cover of this CD is a sticker saying 'Classic Track - Bosnia'. I beg to differ, although it starts
well, with some uncharacteristic plucked acoustic guitar. This sounds a bit like incidental Christmas
music as used by the BBC to preview what they're going to be showing over the festive period. It
swiftly fades out to be replaced by some very unfestive demonic laughter, droning synth and gunfire /
explosions. Over this Dave recites some bitter lyrics fingering the villains of the war in Bosnia.
Politicians and generals far from the front line is the gist of it - there's no examination of the rights and
wrongs of the Serb and/or Bosnian Muslim positions. A military drumbeat underpins more sounds of
warfare and a sombre keyboard pattern. This is a very heart-on-the-sleeve anti-war song, but the
reason I don't see it as a classic is that I think the music's not strong enough to support the message. It
needed a better tune or stronger rhythm, or both, to punch home the sentiments.
Parasites are here on Earth is a more typical Brock solo track, featuring lead guitar improvisations over a
simple keyboard pattern. There's some good guitar riffing here, more reminiscent of Dave's early 80's
output in a way. The lyrics are limited to a few repetitons of "Parasites are here on Earth" before the
number ends with a spacey syntheizer passage. The next song, Gateway, opens with synth
atmospherics aplenty, and is quite decent enough to make a full-fledged Hawkwind track. Hand bells
and choral effects provide that weaving in-and-out sensation again, but as with some of the preceding
tracks, it ends too soon!
Another wacky sample opens 'It's Never Too Late', after which another 2-chord syncopated synth /
sequencer motif takes over, adding some classic Brock synthtones and then multitracked lead guitar.
But in a departure from what seems to be the template for this album, some actual lyrics are dropped in
next, Dave having thickened his voice up here with multliple vocal tracks and some time-based effect,
maybe chorus. The double-time percussion that kicks in on the 3rd verse doesn't float my space ship
particularly but it's quite an impressive piece of drum programming - and not the only one on this album
1970-era Yes keyboards kick off La Forge, and it's only the characteristic melodic Dave Brock guitar
solo that reminds you what this album is. This is another aspect of Hawkwind that doesn't get enough
of a run-out IMHO - there's the odd passage, like the middle section in 'Right To Decide', for example,
but it's something I'd like to hear more of. It doesn't last too long on this song, as a dark-sounding
guitar riffs and chords over a monotonal synth-driven rhythm, invoking memories of the T-Rex song
'Jeepster' with its' between-beat vamping. But the melodic vibes return briefly to close this song out.
And the last number on the album, 'Encounters', fades in with another edgy
synth-drone-with-percussion. Some disturbing sounding synth, previously heard on the Space Bandits
album track 'Realms', wells up to the surface before subsiding sufficiently to let the percussion be heard
once more, before it fades out too. And then the synthesizers float balefully to the forefront of the mix,
to stop suddenly, leaving silence, and signalling the end of the album.
So this album definitely has some strengths, and among these is the thematic unity that runs through it.
The tracks here don't all sound the same, but they do sound as though they should be grouped together
in this way, and the album is more than the sum of its' parts. Another positive is the lack of
self-indulgence. Many of the individual tracks exist to express a single idea, and once they've achieved
this, they're brought to an end. In fact, in a couple of places the ideas were interesting enough that you
want to hear them developed further over a longer stretch of time than the 2 or 3 minutes that the
Captain has allotted. Always leave them wanting more! On the minus side, there's no songwriting to
speak of, as there aren't really any proper songs apart from Space (...Is Deep). But Hawkwind studio
albums are where you go for songs, and this is something a bit different. Unlike Spacebrock (and
excepting the track Space) you don't hear the same material here that you've already heard on other
recordings, although it doesn't have the "suite of music" effect that Spacebrock has - and the material is
not as strong as on Memos and Demos, Dave's most recent solo album. But neither is it failed or
embryonic Hawkwind music that shouldn't have been let loose in public, which is a charge I would level
at some other releases. This was really the first proper Dave Brock solo album in that it showed what
he could create outside of the Hawkwind framework. It's an album that you might want to put on to
keep you company when you're darning a pair of socks or doing something like that. I think I'll go and
check my underwear drawer...
|Scans of the CD packaging. On the left is this rather odd painting of Dave, simultaneously unflattering
and cosmic. On the right, the CD tray is partially covered by overlapping pieces of cardboard depicting
Honiton Bus Station in the year 3047 A.D.